Thursday, July 7, 2016

Three Open Call dancemakers take wing in the Bronx

This fall, the South Bronx arts organization Pepatián will present evening-length works by three emerging choreographers from its 2016 Open Call residency program in partnership with BAAD!.

All three artists--Fana Fraser, Jasmine Hearn and Alethea Pace--will have received free rehearsal space and mentoring in preparation for this paid performance opportunity. Their Open Call mentors include Aileen Passloff, Dr. Marta Morena Vega, Ni'Ja Whitson and Alicia Diaz.

I asked Fraser, Hearn and Pace to write about where they locate the soul of their creativity, how that's best expressed through dance, what they're currently obsessed with--within or outside of dance--and how they view the value of mentorship to their practice.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody


Fana Fraser
(photo: Marisol Diaz, 2016)

I often daydream myself into bizarre, delightful and problematic scenarios. As I piece together these fragments, I am finding recurring plots that blend underbelly tempos of the Caribbean--the place where my navel string is buried; assumptions and anxieties surrounding femininity; dying, death, decay; and the nurturing of newness. More and more, I am listening as my body reveals these stories to be from a seemingly endless source of experience. My performance work harnesses dance and theater to create a playground where histories and future tales are rigorously re-imagined compassion, wildness and power. I am conjuring a space for performer and witness to negotiate ways of being.

I am just beginning to unearth my creative process. My dancing body serves a vital role in unraveling the idiosyncrasies of a character or the inner life of an idea. Guided by intuition and sensitivity within tightly constructed frames, my movement research straddles narrative, abstraction, ritual and tradition. It seems that the more specific, intimate and rigorous my work, the more accessible it becomes to a wide cross-section of people. I revel in that connection.

These days I am obsessed with illustration. You can create any universe you want. I’ve been spending hours doodling and drawing odd little characters, imagining them living rich, complex lives in fantastical realities.

Suddenly and more than usual, over the past couple months, I’m craving intimate and even unsettling exchange between myself and performers. I’m remembering how much I love to serve as witness, however glorious or exhausting that might be…and I’m hooked.

Aileen Passloff and Dr. Marta Moreno Vega are my mentors through Open Call. It is wonderful to have mentors in differing fields. With them I can share ideas, voice my thoughts, and gain valuable feedback and insight. My mentors are an added support system as I find my way through figuring out the work. And hopefully, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship!



Jasmine Hearn
(photo: Marisol Diaz, 2016)

The center focus of my creativity is the listening that needs to happen for when I should need to call on it.

My creativity is best expressed through dance because of how involved the body needs to be with the mind and the spirit to be open and prepared for the complicated work at hand.

Outside of dance, I busy myself with nesting, reading and baking granola. With dance, I am currently obsessed with taking my time.

I believe that having a mentor---someone on the outside that you can trust is so important. I am so curious and glad to have Ni'ja Whitson and Aileen Pasloff as mentors and guides during our residency.

To have inter-generational conversations about what is being found and explored through practice and performance is a rare and wonderful opportunity to have especially as young and emerging artist.



Alethea Pace
(photo: No Longer Empty, 2015)

Questioning is central to my creative process. Right now, I'm asking questions that relate to identity, how it lives in both our personal and cultural history, how it is experienced through our senses and how it is manifested in our bodies. The answers are less important than the questions, which can be continually refined and can open up more possibilities.

I'm obsessed with my working on my piece! I go to sleep at night thinking about it and wake up in the morning doing the same. My present focus is researching the Rhinelander case of 1925. Alice Jones, a mixed-race woman, crossed the color line when she married Leonard Kip Rhinelander, a white aristocrat from one of New York's wealthiest families. Leonard’s family disapproved and forced him to annul the marriage on the grounds of fraud. Prosecutors claimed that Alice had portrayed herself as a white woman and had duped Leonard into marrying him. Much to the prosecutors surprise, her defense team did not attempt to prove her white ancestry and instead acknowledged her blackness. Alice won her case and, after some appeal, was awarded spousal support until her death in 1989. The case was tabloid fodder in its day because it challenged notions of how race is perceived in a way that still has relevance today.

Alice was voiceless throughout the trial, never taking the stand in her own defense. She was objectified by the court, which argued that her race was a “material fact.” She was even forced to strip down by her own attorney to prove that she was unmistakably of color. Her experience lends itself to a movement exploration that relies heavily on perception through the eyes of others.

I am so thrilled to have two amazing mentors, Alicia Diaz and Aileen Passloff, as part of this process. Embarking on this creative journey, my first time making an evening of work, can feel overwhelming at times. Mentorship provides the guidance and support to help realize my vision. I'm being challenged in the best ways and feel myself growing as an artist and a person.




Open Call helps stir up the dance and performance scene happening in the Bronx with support for emerging dancers/choreographers of color and/or emerging Bronx-based artists. We are thrilled to house this opportunity in the Bronx and to help keep the Bronx what it already is--an incubator and site for works that challenge, and provoke, and offer audiences places to imagine and consider possibilities in the world.

Pepatián began the project in partnership with BAAD!/Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance n 2014  with funding from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the Bronx Council on the Arts, and individual contributors to Pepatián. Open Call is now substantially funded by the Jerome Foundation, and in 2016, received a boost of support from the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. Currently, the project provides artists with over $2500 each, in addition to free rehearsal space, mentors, video/photo documentation, and other support. I'm currently researching and contacting other funders to continue to grow the project (online donations are warmly welcomed!

Artists have been selected for this opportunity by a committee of established artists, managers, curator/producers; among them: Arthur Aviles, Christal Brown, Susana Cook, Caleb Hammons, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Merian Soto, and Marya Wethers.

Artists alumni include Awilda Rodriguez Lora (2014); Rebecca Lloyd-Jones, Richard Rivera, Milteri Tucker (2015), and mentors have included Susana Cook, Jorge Merced, Charles Rice-Gonzalez and Merian Soto. All the participating artists have additionally benefited from the experienced input of Arthur Aviles.

In 2015 and 2016, artists participated in creative process workshop with Merián Soto.

BronxNet has also been supportive of the project, hosting artist interviews on OPEN with Rhina Valentin and covering performances.

All artists who applied received specific committee feedback on their proposals. I also forwarded other residency and workshop opportunities. We want to help support artists who sent in their applications to keep growing their work and encourage them to apply to Open Call again next year. I also want to keep growing the community of artists around this residency opportunity--all of the projects' alumni, for example, were invited to attend Soto's creative process workshop as well as the final performances.

Open Call is for artists hungry to create, envision and realize full evening-length works with opportunities to showcase in the "Bronx Artists Now: Showcase & Conversation" APAP event that I've been producing in the Bronx in collaboration with local theaters (BAAD!, Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture, Pregones Theater-PRTT) for the past six years.

Open Call supports artists and the community that is inspired by their work and their dedication to creating new work.

Pepatián is a South Bronx-based organization dedicated to creating, producing and supporting contemporary multi-disciplinary art by Latino and Bronx-based artists.

The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance creates, produces, presents and supports the development of cutting edge and challenging works in contemporary dance and all creative disciplines which are empowering to women, Latinos and other people of color, and the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community.

~ Jane Gabriels, Ph.D., and Director, Pepatián
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